June 22, 2008
Batista opens upThe Animal talks draft, HBK, locker room morale
By KENAI ANDREWS - SLAM! Wrestling
TORONTO - Autograph seekers of all ages swarmed the Toronto Eaton Centre's GNC store as WWE Smackdown star Dave Batista made an appearance to promote a Nutrabolics line of dietary supplements and a morning and afternoon autograph session. Batista spoke extensively with SLAM! Wrestling during the day, discussing a wide range of topics, including his thoughts on the upcoming draft lottery.
Asked to comment on tomorrow's draft, the former three-time Heavyweight Champion pledged his allegiance to the Smackdown brand. "Personally, I would love to stay on Smackdown," he said. "I feel like I've worked really hard with other guys to really build Smackdown. I'm very proud of what we've achieved the past two years. Smackdown's my home and it's where I going to stay." he said confidently.
The man known as The Animal calmly signed autographs, often engaging the fans with his soft-spoken style and a sense of humour. He marveled when a fan told him he is watched in Zimbabwe, and appeared genuinely thankful when a fan presented him a Luciano Pavarotti music collection. An aspiring wrestler from the Caribbean with a tale of high expectations and self-doubt was met with a candid story of his own early personal rejection and a convincing message to persevere.
He is proud of his recent program with Shawn Michaels, noting it contained a lot of the old school flavour he personally loves to see in wrestling. "It felt like we drew a lot of attention with the storyline. I always felt in the pay-per-views for once we weren't the main event but it had a main event feel to it. I think people really just had a lot of emotional investment in the storyline and the matches between. I think the matches that we had were awesome. I think we told an incredible story and to me that's my taste of wrestling. That's what I like about wrestling. A good storyline, a good match that tells the story with a dramatic finish.
"And HBK, I mean, God, he's incredible. Personal differences aside, I'm a huge fan and I really respect him as a wrestler. He's just an awesome person."
He wouldn't mind working with HBK in the future either. "Yes, any day of the week. Anytime," he said immediately at the question. "Anybody who steps in with Shawn is blessed because Shawn could get in the ring with a broomstick and make the broomstick look like the world champion, which is pretty much what he did with me."
Surprisingly, Batista also revealed his admiration for Bret Hart. "I've not read his book," he said after an autograph. "I'd really like to meet him before I read his book. I heard he was speaking at the Hall of Fame and I thought he was hysterical. I always knew he was a great wrestler but I didn't know really anything personal about him. I find him really interesting. I'd like to sit down with him for a little bit and just pick his brain. I think he's an awesome guy."
He also wanted to clear up some common misconceptions, in particular his womanizing and ego. "Yeah, that's crazy," he laughed. "That was a short time in my career that I kind of went crazy. I may be guilty of being a little bit flirtatious, but it gets old real fast."
Naturally, Ric Flair fits in to the fast lane story. "Especially when I was driving with Ric too, I mean we were just letting it hang out every night. But it was such a short period of time in my career. I've only dated a couple of girls since my wife and I split, and one of them has kind of been on and off so I guess everyone kind of knows about Melina. But it really has been on and off and otherwise I really haven't seen anybody seriously.
"I'm a little bit standoffish or I'm a lot standoffish," he continued. "I've just always been like that and what really pisses me off when people think its arrogance. I'm really not. I don't think I'm an arrogant person at all; actually pretty humble. I'm very grateful for what I have and or for what I've achieved. I never take wrestling for granted. I think people have to remember I'm a regular guy too, and when I show up at 4 o'clock in the morning at a hotel, if I'm not in great spirits and smiling and out there wanting to signing autographs, people have to understand I'm just a regular guy.
"Sometimes that stuff still strikes me as very odd, very strange. I don't get why people come up and want my autograph and stuff, it's just weird to me. I'd rather shake hands and to take a picture with them. I'm always good for that. I always try to stop. A lot of times at airports and stuff you see guys with stacks of stuff and they want you to sign, I know they're going on eBay so you know. Sometimes you can't tell the real fans from the eBay guys, so sometimes I just don't stop. But if somebody says, 'Hey, well can I take a picture with you?' I just stop. Right off the bat, I'll stop and take a picture. Other than that, I don't know, I've heard a lot of stuff so I wouldn't even know where to start. I try not pay attention to all that stuff, because I don't have time for all that negative bull. I'm a pretty positive guy and I like to encourage people."
Batista confirmed he currently does not have a MySpace or Facebook account and generally avoids the online world despite having a website of his own (davebatista.com or demon-wrestling.com). "I started boycotting the internet a long time ago when I realized how much negativity there was," he explained. "And I take a lot of stuff personally, especially early back in my career. So I just avoid it. I realize Iím probably giving up the good stuff too but I just feel that thereís more negativity on the internet than there is positive."
To that note, Batista addressed the difference in morale in the respective locker rooms. "The biggest difference I've heard, and I've just heard this from some of the guys. For some reason, some of the boys are really weird around Hunter (Triple H) for some reason," he said. "I think a lot of him think of him as 'office' and he's so not. If they spend 10 minutes to get to know him, they'd realize how down to earth he is, and he's not always judging. I think they're always worried that he's passing judgment on people. But with our locker room, of course the locker room general being 'Taker and 'Taker to me is just this bad ass biker, as cool as can be. I think he makes everybody a bit more laid back. For some reason I think some of the (RAW) guys are really uptight around Hunter and I can't figure out why. He's such a good guy."
He also deflected rumours of discontent from the locker room regarding the current RAW million dollar giveaway. "A million dollars is a lot of money," he laughed. "It's going to attract people who may not be regular viewers. I haven't heard anything negatively about giving away the money. I think he (Vince McMahon) has good intentions. I think everybody realizes that."
Which makes one wonder: What's in store for The Animal after wrestling?
"I hope to always have a job within WWE," he said after taking a picture with a fan. "I'm thinking about hanging up my boots in the next couple of years. I'm almost 40; turn 39 this year, so I hope there's going to be a spot for me within the company. Really love to be in the developmental program working with some of the younger kids. It really makes me sad. I think a lot of the artform of wrestling has been lost. Nowadays it's about these guys that want to do these fancy spots. Ric Flair always said to me our business is selling, what we do is sell and we tell stories. And that's what I feel is the artform of wrestling and I really feel that's been lost. I got that from Ric, I got that from Hunter. I'd like to pass that along to somebody who wanted to learn."
Batista emphasized to SLAM! Wrestling that he is a regular guy that is doing extraordinary things. "I wear my heart on my sleeve. I tell people like it is and usually it gets me in a lot of trouble but it's just the person I am and I'm happy with myself. I'm not going to be another way just to make people happy. I have problems with someone, they're going to hear about it. If I love them, they're going to hear about it too. It just the way I am now. I'm too old to change. Old dog, stuck in my ways, " he said with a laugh.
Kenai Andrews is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Email him at email@example.com.